Asger Leth’s “Man on a Ledge” does the kind of thing movies do well. It takes place over the course of a day, and mostly stays in one spot. We’re in and we’re out. Even the title gets the point across cleanly.
That one spot is a ledge, high up on the side of a New York building.
The movie’s premise is brilliant and simple — much like 1994’s “Speed” or 2003’s “Phone Booth.” And though the main character here can’t move around much, each time he does, he raises a tense gasp from the crowd.
Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) plays Nick Cassidy, our man on the ledge. The movie opens simply. He checks into a hotel. He eats a meal, leaves a note, puts on his coat and steps out onto the ledge.
An early flashback provides the additional information that Nick was in prison, and that he’s a former cop.
The New York Police Department arrives, but Nick will only speak to detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), who has a troubled, infamous past. Lydia wakes up with a hangover, presumably the latest of many. She heads to work grumpy and fuzzy, and tries to find out more about her jumper. Weirdly, there is nothing. He hasn’t even left any fingerprints in the room.
The problem isn’t just about how Nick is going to get down, but determining why he is on the ledge in the first place.
The answer is not particularly deep, but it is lots of fun. It involves Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell); Joey’s sexy, firecracker girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez, in a star-making performance); Nick’s former partner (Anthony Mackie); and a ruthless tycoon (Ed Harris).
Oh, and there’s a really big diamond.
Director Leth is the son of Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, who is best known in this country for co-directing “The Five Obstructions” (2003) with Lars von Trier. The younger Leth also worked on the script for that film.
With his feature directorial debut, Leth delivers a lean, tight movie with clear, exciting action. One particular scene, in which a SWAT team descends onto the ledge, is truly gasp-worthy.
The script by Pablo F. Fenjves has just the right dash of mystery, without getting too complex. It withholds information rather than dishing it out too eagerly.
Best of all, when the movie finally does hit the ground, it hits the ground running. And the credits roll before the momentum is lost.
In short, “Man on a Ledge” doesn’t let us down.
Man on a Ledge
Starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Edward Burns, Kyra Sedgwick
Written by Pablo F. Fenjves
Directed by Asger Leth
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes